KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - After its basic aim was to redress the sharp electric shortage in Ethiopia and export the surplus power, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has turned into a threat to Sudan’s and Egypt’s water security, now that Ethiopia is gearing towards the second filling of the Dam without a binding agreement with the two countries.
The question now is: Can dialogue succeed in resolving the Dam issue after protracted talks that continued for a decade?
The GERD is built on the River Blue Nile in Bani Shangoal district, 15 Km from the Sudanese border, in Northern Ethiopia. It is projected to store 75 billion cubic meters of the river water.
Ethiopia’s evasive attitude towards serious talks about the operation of the Dam is supported by an argument that the three countries should not stick to water sharing pacts from the colonial era. Observers consider this narrative is directed towards the Ethiopian public in a bid to serve pure political purposes. Ethiopia’s use of the term “colonial era” is baseless. The history book tells us that two agreements were signed on the border and water issues.
The first was the water and borders accord signed in 1902 between the then independent Ethiopia and the then British administration of Sudan. The agreement was sealed by Emperor Menelik for Ethiopia and the Governor General of Sudan.
The second was a Nile water distribution agreement between Sudan and Egypt in 1959, both independent states at the time. The latter agreement has nothing to do with Ethiopia. It was between the two downstream states. So, in both cases, there is no place for the expression “colonial era.”
Then both accords were bypassed by the Declaration of Principles, signed between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia in 2015 that permitted the construction of the Dam and an agreement on the Dam filling and operation. In this Declaration of Principles, Sudan and Egypt, at the time, said they do not object to the Dam construction, given the existence of a written and legally binding agreement on the Dam filling duration. Later on and after Ethiopian protracted intransigence and procrastination in the talks, refusing to sign a written and legally binding agreement, Egypt started to send warnings of military intervention.
The Sudanese Ministry of Water and Irrigation does not deny the benefits the country can gain from the Dam, summed up by an informed Ministry source in: The Dam will regulate the flow of the River Blue Nile water, allowing for water forecasting and calculation. The Dam can also guarantee a cheaper and more reliable supply of electricity for Sudan, a country that suffers from long hours of power outages. The regular flow of water can also raise electric output in the Rossairis Dam by 20 percent, and the upstream Meroe Dam by 8 percent. The Ethiopian Dam will also rid Sudan of vast quantities of silt and enhance river navigation. But all of these positive effects of the Dam cannot be attained without the existence of a legal written and binding agreement that guards against the hazards of an unsafe operation of the Dam.
The Sudanese Government is apprehensive of the absence of a legally binding agreement between the three countries. The unsafe operation of the Dam poses threats to the safety of Sudan’s water installations and all the economic activities on the banks of the two rivers: the main River Nile and the Blue Nile, on which depend half of Sudan’s population. This would render the Government incapable of strategic planning and disrupt agricultural development and electric generation and increase risks as time goes on.
Everybody remembers the September 2020 floods which many engineering reports attribute to the disruption which occurred at the Rossairis Dam that could not accommodate all the water it had received from the GERD, which lies 100 km south of it. As a result, tens of people lost their lives and the country suffered grave material losses. All of that was because of the sudden first filling of the Ethiopian Dam.
Sudan and Egypt had, before that, requested Ethiopia to postpone its plans for that filling until when a comprehensive agreement is reached for the management and operation of the Dam.
Now Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abi Ahmad has declared his country was determined to make the second filling in July. By that Ethiopia will be violating the Declaration of Principles, the first to be written on the issue of this Renaissance Dam. The Declaration has stipulated seven principles, two of them were breached by Ethiopia, so triggering the ongoing wrangling on the Dam project.
The Third Article of the Declaration of Principles obliges Ethiopia to state the Dam filling timetables and also calls for avoiding the causing of any harm while using the river water and in case there is harm for any country, the country that caused the harm should coordinate with the affected countries to mitigate or prevent that harm and, further, discuss the issue of compensation.
The other article violated by Ethiopia in the Declaration of Principles is Article Five that stipulated the necessity of coordination and agreement upon the regulations for the first filling and the regulations of the annual operation of the Dam.
In the light of all this, Sudan is entitled to file a legal case against Ethiopia and the company engaged in the Dam construction, citing the harms expected from the unilateral Ethiopian second filling of the Dam in July, according to a statement by the Water Resources and Irrigation Minister, Prof. Yasir Abbas in a recent TV program.
Prof. Abbas has said the Sudan is in no need for evidence to prove the harm expected from the next dam filling. “Sudan’s demands are legal and reasonable. The Renaissance Dam lies about 100 km from the Rossairis Dam. That means any absence of information about the filling and operation timetables will hinder the operation process of the Rossairis Dam, and accordingly affect the farming zones in Sudan as well as 20 million Sudanese citizens living along the river banks,” he said.
The unsafe operation of the Rossairis Dam means all the agricultural schemes and drinking water stations behind this Dam will not work safely, he said, recalling what happened last year when Ethiopia stored four billion cubic meters of water without notifying the Sudan and when the Nile and Blue Nile water levels dropped as a result of which some of the drinking water stations went out of service for between three days to one week.
Prof. Abbas added: “For the Ethiopian Dam to function well, without any harm, two lower gates and two water turbines should be opened. Up to now Ethiopia hasn’t opened but the two lower gates. That means a drop in the water that is expected to be passed and accordingly a drop in the electric output at the Meroe and Rossairis dams. Further, Ethiopia does not want to give data on the quantity of the water it stores at its Dam.
Abbas said the Sudan will not realize any benefit without a binding agreement; in fact the country will be liable to tremendous losses.
In the meantime, the Minister has denied the existence of an undeclared agreement between Sudan and Egypt, confirming Sudan’s insistence upon the quadripartite committee (the African Union, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union) his country has proposed to settle the dispute.
Sudan insists upon a binding agreement, and not a gift from Ethiopia, he said, stressing that the Nile is an international river, shared by three countries and not an Ethiopian river.
For its part, Egypt has backed the quadripartite committee to resolve the dispute, rejecting the status quo and the unilateral policy followed by Ethiopia. In a visit to Khartoum in March, Egyptian President Abdelfattah Alsisi confirmed that the security and stability of Sudan means the security and stability of Egypt.
The Egyptian army chief of staff, in a visit to Khartoum on 2 March, said his country was ready to meet all of Sudan’s needs of training and armaments to secure its borders. Could this be interpreted as an Egyptian big worry about the Dam filling?
Sudan remains adamant about a binding agreement for the Dam filling and operation, not just general unbinding information given by Ethiopia today and denied tomorrow. The Nile and the Blue Nile are international rivers, not a property of a single country. What is needed is to realize the interests of all three countries: Ethiopia achieves the economic development it wants, Egypt gets its share of the river waters and Sudan preserves its water installations. That is what Sudan wants.